Is there a better way to commemorate E3 than going to see upcoming games such as Trion's massively multiplayer game, Heroes of Telara? (Don't answer that, it's a rhetorical question.) This upcoming MMOG takes place in an unconventional fantasy world in which elves and dwarves join forces with human swordsmen wearing plumed hats and flared pantaloons, all of whom ride lumbering lizards into battle against demonic imps, goblins, and misshapen fantasy fiends.
Who's Making This Game: Trion Studios, a relatively new developer with offices in California and Texas.
What the Game Looks Like: The game's graphical style is described as "stylized realism"--that is, characters and buildings that are designed and shaped in asymmetrical, unusual ways but adorned with realistic-looking textures.
What There Is to Do: Like with many massively multiplayer games, your goal is to complete quests, gain experience levels, and acquire piles of glimmering loot, powerful weapons, and better armor by slaying vicious monsters and gathering resources to craft new products.
How the Game Is Played: Like with many games of this sort, you create a single character who belongs to a specific profession (there are four basic professions in the game, corresponding to the archetypes of warrior, wizard, healer, or thief, though there are also specialized subclasses of each with additional special powers). However, unlike most games of this sort, you can change your character's profession to any other profession when at certain locations in the world, such as your local town. In this way, you can fill out any role in your party as needed, though you'll need to gain experience levels in those other professions, too, to stay competitive. The demonstration character that we saw started off as a robed sorceress carrying a magic staff, but after switching professions, she became an armored warrior with a two-handed footman's mace. Even more interestingly, subclasses are unlocked by acquiring subclass cards that can be found as loot from fallen monsters with similar powers. But the most intriguing aspect of this game is its emphasis on keeping server-side in-game content broken up by function, not by in-game locations like in many other games. Having server space allocated by in-game location is what tends to cause horrible lag when a bunch of players all try to gather in the same place. Instead, because location information is kept separate, not only will lag not be an issue, but also the studio can change in-game locations on the fly.
The demonstration that we watched showed the sorceress character start her life out in a sunny, well-populated country village, at which point she went outside the gates to discover that the town was under attack by foppish highwaymen. We struck several of them down, and then ventured out further to find a "heroic quest"--a location-triggered quest that may not be set permanently in any one location for long. This particular quest required us to thwart an evil undead wizard who constantly summoned skeletal warriors. We pummeled his bony backside (and the respective backsides of his minions) and looted a necromantic subclass card from his corpse. After that, we returned to the village at night to find it completely changed. The village had become partially wrecked and was ablaze as demonic imps hurled tiny fireballs at villagers. We reverted to our warrior class and splattered the imps until the big fish arrived--in this case, a large, goat-legged demon who appeared in a blood-red summoning circle with bright lights and much ballyhoo. As a warrior, we had trouble defeating him, given that he struck anyone who approached him with a powerful repulsive attack that flung us backward and briefly stunned us. We then changed our class to the necromantic subclass and summoned a small army of skeletons that eventually pummeled the demon into the ground. After the beast was slain, the fires in the town died out and were replaced by fireworks and confetti as the surviving peasants emerged from their homes to cheer us on in the rubble.
What They Say: Heroes of Telara's distinctive server-side structure and class-changing system will offer an entirely unique MMOG experience.
What We Say: Although today's demo looked impressive, it remains to be seen whether this sort of experience can remain consistent for all players, at launch and postlaunch, week in and week out. We'll see when the game is released next year.